A MARVEL FAN AND A DC FAN WALK INTO A THEATER...
After much anticipation following the now famous MCU Phase 3 reveal in 2014, Captain America: Civil War is finally upon us, and I was lucky enough to attend an advance screening three weeks early. I'm mostly a Marvel guy, though a big fan of big portions of the DC comics universe, namely Batman, Green Lantern, Flash, and a few others. I took my DC friend to this just two weeks after we'd seen Batman v Superman together (he had issues but generally liked it, I had issues and generally didn't). So anyway, a Marvel guy and a DC guy walk into a theater together to be friends and see movies...stop me if you've heard this one.
We've both seen just about every comic book movie ever made, good, bad, and ugly, and debated, comiserated, fanboyed out, etc. accordingly. Going in, he was skeptical that the Russos could top his favorite MCU effort, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. I had my doubts as well, considering the sheer volume of characters involved and the overstuffed feeling Avengers: Age of Ultron had just a year ago. With tempered optimism, blah blah blah. Preface complete. Now on to the movie itself.
From the onset, the plot and the dialogue are written very well, and the action is jaw-dropping at times. The Russos seem to have found the right tonal balance of action, drama, humor, and character work to keep things moving very swiftly throughout the entire film, where the 2 hours and 27 minutes seem to go by much quicker than you would think, and the pace very rarely, if ever, seems to drag. The performances by Chris Evans and RDJ are their best work yet with Steve Rogers and Tony Stark respectively, and everyone else more than holds their own when it's time for their character to shine. There isn't a performance that doesn't mix well with the others. Everything is integrated pretty seamlessly, especially for the number of big name actors and egos that an ensemble like this undoubtedly would have a hard time wrestling with under most circumstances. The structure of this movie definitely goes outside the oft-criticized "Marvel Formula," and manages to take some pretty big plot risks, all of which pay off in major ways.
When the philosophical split happens between Steve and Tony, you really do have a hard time deciding who is right, because both cases are presented very well, and are bolstered by very natural dialogue and solid performances by all the other Avengers as they choose sides over the issue of government oversight. Nothing in this movie seems out of character for anyone who has followed the MCU up to this point. So that covers my thoughts on the characters we've seen with the Avengers before. Now for the characters we haven't:
Ant-Man is a fantastic addition following his solo movie from last year, and Paul Rudd is exactly what he needs to be to continue the character of Scott Lang in a way that both furthers his own franchise and serves the story and the action of this movie. Ant-Man's action in this movie is pure joy, and when you see it, you'll know what I mean.
Black Panther is another standout, played by the chameleonic Chadwick Boseman, who somehow makes T'Challa EXACTLY what you wanted him to be ever since you heard he was part of this story. His Black Panther is so good, the entire theater cheered loudly for him probably five times throughout the movie. Part of that was just his portrayal and the other part was his insane action sequences. If Black Panther was what you paid to see, there's no way in hell you could go home dissatisfied with what you got. The real shame here is that I can't go see Black Panther's solo movie TOMORROW. Unbelievable job by Boseman and the whole crew.
And the grand coup for Marvel was the addition of Spider-Man to their universe. I'm a big fan of the first two Sam Raimi movies, particularly Spider-Man 2. Seeing Spidey fight Doc Ock on screen for the first time is something I will never forget. The action in that movie was amazing, but while Tobey Maguire did a good job as Peter Parker, the characterization of Spider-Man while he was in costume left a lot to be desired. Andrew Garfield's version was just the opposite. Garfield was a so-so Peter Parker, and a better Spidey than Tobey was. Both were pretty good for different reasons, but neither really nailed the entire character we all know and love. TOM HOLLAND HAS DONE IT. You won't believe how good Tom Holland is as both Peter Parker AND Spider-Man. He's on screen for a total of about a half hour over two important sequences, and somehow, he's enough to make you forget about the previous incarnations and gleefully accept him as the new standard-bearer. It's unreal how good this kid is in this role. Marvel's biggest strength has always been their casting, and this movie just further solidifies that idea. Oh, and the "Aunt May is hot" issue is addressed damn near immediately, and in a brilliant way. Marisa Tomei ain't your Aunt May's Aunt May. Spidey's solo movie looks incredibly promising to me after seeing him here.
To sum it all up, I'll say this: It's my new favorite Marvel movie. And my DC friend? It's his new favorite too. We both left the theater chatterboxing the entire ride home like a couple of giddy high school kids. We're both in our mid-30's, so our tastes are a little different from some of the youngsters out there as far as the era of Bronze Age comics we grew up with. And we've both lived through an era where comic book movies were generally pretty crappy and nothing like this movie could have even been conceived of. I still say Dark Knight is the best comic book movie of all time, but you won't believe how close Civil War comes to tying or topping it. You will tell everyone you know about the airport scene. It's that good. It's the best action sequence in a comic book movie either of us have ever seen, and it's not even close. And when I say we've seen 'em all....we've seen 'em ALL. But that's not the end of the movie.
The conflict between Cap and Iron Man is brutal and emotional, and it keeps you invested the entire time. It sobers you up from the absolute delight of the airport scene and turns the tone right on its head to pull you right into the drama. Make no mistake: in spite of all the additional Avengers characters and greater MCU payoff/fan service, this is Cap's movie first and foremost. It is a direct sequel to both Winter Soldier AND Age of Ultron, but manages to tie just about everything not named Thor or Guardians of the Galaxy together in a beautiful way, all while maintaining Cap, Tony, and Bucky's character arcs as the primary driving force behind it. If there is one complaint many fanboys will make, it's that Zemo doesn't really have much of a role. But this was never a Baron Zemo movie. He's not a central character in the least. He's there to move the plot forward, and Daniel Bruhl's portrayal of him is very sinister and smart, just as Zemo himself is in the comics. I will say this about Zemo: He didn't have to be named Zemo, but it's interesting that they went this way. He has valid reasons for doing the things he does, and he's ten steps ahead of everybody else. Smart, well-cast, and Marvel used him in a way they don't use most of their villains. They went away from the formula with him. You'll see what I mean when you watch it. If you're here to see a major overarching big bad, you won't. It's just not that kind of story. This is Cap vs Tony. Hero vs. hero. It was never going to be hero vs villain.
FINAL VERDICT: Best Cap movie, best Iron Man movie, best Avengers movie, best Marvel movie. It edges out Winter Soldier, Iron Man, Avengers, and GOTG for me. It's damn near a perfect comic book movie. Take it from two old comic book geeks from both sides of the aisle. This movie is phenomenal. FIVE STARS, and I wish I had more.
Enjoy, true believers. You too, DC fans.